Red Wolf Revival: Tackling an Endangered Species – The Coastland Times
On Friday, January 24, a group of representatives from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, the Wildlands Network and the Red Wolf Coalition spoke with the public to discuss the realities of the declining population of red wolves in North Carolina.
The meeting began with a brief documentary from 2015 that recapped the history of the red wolves and the challenges the population has faced since their reintroduction in 1987. After 14 red wolves were identified and captured at the Texas / Louisiana border in at the time, they were transferred to the Albemarle Peninsula. It was the first time in history that a predator was reintroduced to nature anywhere in the world.
Since their reintroduction, the coyote population has been increasing and with their ever increasing numbers, they now occupy the same protected land as the red wolves. This, combined with the large amount of human-caused mortalities in red wolves, has reduced the population in North Carolina to a surprising twelve individuals.
Since the documentary’s release in 2015, red wolves have been listed as a “SAFE” species (saving an animal from extinction). Columbia’s Red Wolf Center reopened and a court ruling imposed a permanent injunction against the capture or killing of red wolves without first demonstrating that they pose a threat to the safety of humans, livestock or animals. pets.
All twelve known red wolves have been collared and are being tracked by the USFWS. USFWS panelist and representative Joe Madison suspects there are a few more, rounding the total population to around twenty wolves.
Madison also reported that 2019 was the first year that no Red Cubs were born. Five deaths have been recorded in the past twelve months: two from collisions with vehicles, one by gunshot, one by suspected gunshot and one from unknown causes. There are also no breeding pairs currently available in NC.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has updated the red wolf recovery plan. Currently, they are developing breeding pairs on an island off the coast of Florida.
St. Vincent Wildlife Refuge is an island spread site for red wolves. There is a pair of red wolves that live in a confined area there with their offspring. Madison explained that her team works to capture these puppies once they are old enough to bring them back to North Carolina for reintroduction.
The lofty goal at the end of this plan is basically to have three breeding pairs of red wolves from St. Vincent and the areas around the Albemarle Peninsula. “We’ve been trapping every day since Dec. 3,” Madison told the crowd. Although the team had some success, few of the captured canids were red wolves.
Madison explained that trapping these creatures was not easy, as all of the collared individuals have already been captured and are “on them.” “They know very well what we are trying to do,” he said.
Wheeler explained that in her 15 years of working with the coalition, she has met many people who have expressed their fear of wolves. Her educational background led her to understand that red wolves operate in a family unit and do not kill for fun. Getting this to the public has been a challenge. She added: “I think fear is one of the biggest challenges behind the tolerance of humans.”
Panelist Andrea Shipley, a mammologist at NCWRC agreed, “I have never had an experience where I felt my life was in danger.” Shipley worked closely with these animals in the trapping aspect with wild and captive red wolves. She and Madison worked together on the updated plan for the Red Wolf’s recovery.
Another common misconception that has been discussed is that hunting coyotes will reduce the size of their population. Shipley spoke of this: “Coyotes have an amazing natural life history strategy where when you really get down into an area where there is a large population of coyotes what ends up happening is that this prompts the females to produce more puppies which eventually survive. “
However, the big question of the night was what is the main reason the red wolf population reached the striking numbers it is today? Madison’s response was that human-induced mortality has taken a heavy toll on the population. The documentary noted that up to 10% of the population is lost to gun violence each year.
No matter how you look at it, the panel agreed that the Red Wolves are in grave danger. A member of the panel, Marty Brill, a resident of Hyde County, recounted his experience with the red wolves. He lost roosters to a red wolf, which he later found out because the animal had been injured and separated from its pack.
He then saw two red wolves being shot by hunters during the day, after noting how “beautiful” they looked across the landscape he lives in.
After a question from the audience asking when the team would consider the plan a success, Madison explained that the long-term plan includes reintroducing the red wolves to other parts of the country.
At present, there are 256 red wolves in captivity. “We want to increase that number to 400 over the next few years,” he said. No site has been chosen for the reintroduction, but the goal for the future of the red wolves does not only include North Carolina.
For more information on red wolves and the USFWS recovery plans, visit their website at www.fws.gov/southeast/wildlife/mammals/red-wolf/.
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